11 COVID-19’s Effect On Upper-Level Students

Carter Fricks

Introduction

The effects of COVID-19 can be seen in all aspects of life right now. The economy, social life, politics, and so many other aspects of life are being altered. There is not a single person on Earth that has not felt the effects of the current pandemic. Arguably the most affected part of many people’s lives has been education. This is due to the fact that not only do students rely on the education system, but so do the parents of these students. Students at all levels of education are having to adapt to the new normal of less than half capacity classrooms and Zoom calls from the bedroom. While this is the case, there are many things currently being done to attempt to give these students the learning experience they not only need, but deserve. COVID-19 has brought about many complications in the world of education. Specifically, higher level education. Undergraduate and Graduate students are not only being affected academically, but their futures are being put at risk due to changes in classroom procedure and loss of potential internships in their desired career field.

Connection to STS Theory

The outbreak of COVID-19 has changed the way society functions. All aspects are being effected. Education is arguably the most altered and consequential. COVID-19 has changed the way that education is performed by adding new forms of technology in order to follow protocol and maintain social distancing. While this comes as a disadvantage to students, the use of technology has been able to keep education moving forward despite the outbreak of the pandemic.

Initial Effects of the Pandemic on College Students

1.725 billion. That is the number of students across 134 countries that are being impacted by the closure of educational institutions (Fernandes 168). As a result of the pandemic, people in higher power believe that online learning and the closing of campuses is the best way to stop the spread of COVID-19. While they are not wrong, billions of students are facing negative effects of the new normal. While the technological advancements we have seen in the recent years certainly helps a transition to online learning, there are still many complications. Lectures and materials can easily be recorded and posted online, but that comes with many hurdles to get over. A lack of technology or proper internet connection in certain areas or in certain families can put certain students at a disadvantage. These and so many other factors can prevent students from accessing necessary tools and materials needed to succeed (Fernandes 168). Scenarios like these are things that are taken in to consideration but are ultimately overlooked due to the situation at hand. As people see it, online learning is the best way to stop the spread of the virus. While this may be true, it is putting many students a step behind their peers due to things that are out of their control.

200630-N-MC499-0090
This image shows the average lecture hall on a college campus around the globe. Classrooms are being placed at half capacity (at the most) and masks are required in order to follow protocol.

The outbreak of COVID-19 has been heartbreaking for college students all over the world. College is the last step in a young-adults life before the “real world”. It is a time in students lives that shapes the person they are going to be. Lifelong relationships are made, and it is potentially the last time students will see peers that they have become so close with. As hard enough as it is to move on from college, the outbreak of the pandemic intensified that for the class of 2020. Writer Charlotte Alter wrote an article titled “Unlucky Graduates” in an attempt to unpack the heaviness of what COVID-19 has done to upper-level education students as they attempt to embark into the real world (30-41). Harvard Kennedy School Institute of Politics also conducted a survey to show that most young Americans political stance is molded between the ages of 14-24. The current actions of the government due to the pandemic will shape the minds of these graduates for the rest of their lives.

Impact on Job Opportunities

One of the most difficult aspects of transition after graduation is finding a career. Due to the current pandemic, job opportunities for new graduates are going to be scarce at best. It is very likely that an increase will be seen in youth unemployment (Alter 4). Evidence of this can already be seen. Michael Horodniceanu, a professor at New York University’s engineering school has said that only 55% of engineering students have standing job offers, much of which came before the pandemic outbreak. He also claims that salaries and budgets, along with the hiring of new employees are already dropping (Buckly 1). Following the outbreak, the need for interns in many industries has been depleted for the time being. While not all internship programs have been removed, most at the very least have been condensed, with specific protocols in place. Michael Baker International’s internship program has been limited to virtual work (Buckly 2). While they are getting experience, interns are missing out on day-to-day processes and interactions that come with social components of the industry. The value of internships is very under-appreciated. Paid or unpaid, the opportunity to get experience in one’s desired industry is something that can really jump start them into life after college. With these internships being minimized or even erased, not only are college students missing out on valuable experience. They are also being put at a disadvantage when it comes to getting qualified for jobs post-graduation.

Impact on Classroom Procedure and Online Learning

While internships are very important for the development of a student’s skills, nothing is more important than the education itself. Due to COVID-19, education processes at all levels, not just undergraduate and postgraduate, have been altered. Classroom capacity has been cut in half, campuses have closed, and classes are being taught virtually. Though some majors may be easier than others to learn online, learning any subject through online interaction alone is difficult and something that students have never had to do before. With that being said, it has been brought into question if students will be properly qualified in their fields of study because of the new ways of learning.

Medical Students

One field to look at is the medicine, specifically surgical studies. Due to the current health crisis, it is an obvious assumption that there is a greater need for medical help. However, current medical students are not being trained as normal, thus being put at a disadvantage in the field. One of the most important aspects of medical studies is hands on experience and up-close observation, especially when it comes to surgical studies. These are processes that have been limited due to COVID-19 protocols of social distancing while waiting for a vaccine.

Medical students
This image shows the close proximity in which surgical students can be when in their practice. Observations like this one have been put on hold due to social-distancing guidelines.

The interest level in surgical studies depends crucially on the placement of surgical students, which has been completely put on hold in most places (Khan & Mian 269). That being said, a decline in an interest in this field can already be seen in multiple countries due to COVID-19. While the need for social distancing is obviously very important, surgery is a skill that must be perfected within an operating theatre. The operating theatre is important for viewing not only the surgery itself, but also things like preparation, procedure, and the team aspect within a surgery. In the short run, viewing live proctoring and interacting remotely may be effective, but this and learning through books will not properly prepare students for a life in the surgical field (Khan & Mian 269).

What is Being Done?

There is no question that COVID-19 has brought many changes to education. At all levels the way students learn has been changed. While inevitable, education must go on, especially upper-level education. It is what molds and prepares the next generation of workers for the future, and must move forward in whatever fashion possible. Despite the difficulties cited above, along with the ones unmentioned, things are being done to move upper-level education forward.

Creating Opportunities

There are currently things being done to offer college students the possibilities that those of past generations have had, despite the pandemic. Universities in the United Kingdom have called for paid internships to be offered to college graduates in the class of 2020 to not only help them in life after college, but also help businesses move forward in the pandemic (“Supporting Graduates”). Their goal is to prevent the outbreak of COVID-19 from causing a rise in youth unemployment and to create fair opportunities for graduates. British universities also recommended that the government implement measures like targeted support for these graduates and policy change (“Supporting Graduates”).

Something else that has been proposed to help medical school graduates could be an answer to one of the most prominent questions being asked since the outbreak: Will there be enough doctors, nurses, pharmacists, and other health care providers? Dawn E. DeWitt, a medical professor from Washington State University suggested a proposition that can answer this question and benefit college students seeking placement and internships in the medical field. While the question of ensuring that there are enough medical professionals is on many people’s mind, medical students are still being sent home to prevent the spread of the virus. DeWitt writes that instead of sending them home, they can be given the proper training and experience by working in-house at their own medical school. This would not only give them the internships and experience they need. It can also help make an actual difference in the midst of the pandemic. DeWitt also claims that unlike past social disruptions, there are now over 30,000 qualified medical students that can be given needed opportunities to make a difference in the United States.

Many other countries have already put this arrangement into practice, and even medical schools in the US have started graduating students early to give them a chance. Advocates of this approach argue that medical schools should continue using the already in place virtual learning, but then push students towards jobs affiliated with their own medical school. This is important because further delays in residency can bring even more chaos for graduates and short-staffed health care systems (DeWitt 1). Dewitt writes that a further benefit of this arrangement is that students would be interning on “home turf”. This is beneficial because it shortens or eliminates the transition process between schooling and work and can help students easily adjust to a real job in their desired field. While there may be some logistical barriers, DeWitt believes that having students work at their own medical schools is the best option for students, who would otherwise have a very difficult time finding a job or internship. The practice would also have a quick impact in a world that has been so heavily altered by COVID-19.

Reimagining the Traditional Classroom In the Midst of a Pandemic

One of the biggest changes to education has been the diminishing or removal of the traditional classroom setting. Kindergarten rooms all the way up to college lecture halls have been left dormant due to social distancing guidelines and other attempts to stop the spread of the Coronavirus. Learning is now being done in ways it has never been done before. Instead of being in person, in front of a teacher or professor surrounded by your peers, students have had to resort to Zoom calls from home. In some places, in person teaching is still being done. However, it is done through a mask with less than half the class there in person. For most, if not all, this transition out of the traditional classroom setting has been difficult. Being stuck doing school at home eliminates important social interactions and can drastically affect the mood of students. While this has been tough, it is something that has to be done.

However, there are steps being taken to move back into the traditional classroom setting even in the midst of the pandemic. According to an article in the Daily Commercial News, Citizen Care Pod Corporation, the company responsible for the innovation of many mobile testing pods, is currently developing a portable classroom pod for all levels of education. They are doing this to provide students a safe and effective way to receive in person instruction. The pods will include proper heating and air systems, functioning windows, and even separate entrances for teachers and students (“Education Pods”). The negative effects that the loss of the traditional classroom setting is having on students is well known. Especially for college students, this transition has been odd to say the least. This can be due to the fact that a high majority of college students are on their own, without their parents, and are not accustomed to learning without supervision. The portable classroom pod gives student a new sense of responsibility and accountability to get their school work done on their own, without instruction and without their parents. Citizen Care Pod Corporation is attempting to give these students the learning experience they deserve.

RPM (Risk, Prevent and Manage)

Another suggested resource for the bettering of education can come from a somewhat unlikely source. Reopening education can benefit from the acronym currently used in dentistry, “RPM” (Miller 1-2). The R stands for risk assessment and reduction, the P stands for prevention, and the M for manage the problem. This universal acronym can be effectively used to ease the education system back to normal in the midst of the current pandemic. It been heavily used in the world of dentistry and has been said to be effective in education when it comes to moving forward in the pandemic.

Conclusion

Without a question, education has been one of the most affected aspects of life in the COVID-19 pandemic. For graduate and undergraduate students, not only has the way they learn been altered, their opportunities following graduation are now at stake. Despite the inevitability of this, many measures are being proposed and put in to practice ensure that student can still receive proper education and be successful after graduation. These measures are vital to the betterment of education moving forward.

References

Alter, Charlotte. “Unlucky Graduates.” TIME Magazine, vol. 195, no. 20/21, 2020, pp. 30–41. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=a9h&AN=143351278.

Buckley, Bruce, et al. “For Class of 2020, Hiring Trends Signal a Changing Future.” ENR: Engineering News-Record, vol. 284, no. 12, 2020, pp. 10–11. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=a9h&AN=143588793.

DeWitt, Dawn E. “Fighting COVID-19: Enabling Graduating Students to Start Internship Early at Their Own Medical School.” Annals of Internal Medicine, vol. 173, no. 2, 2020, pp. 143–144. EBSCOhost, doi:10.7326/M20-1262.

“Education Pods Aim to Deter COVID- 19 Spread.” Daily Commercial News, vol. 93, no. 175, 2020, pp. 1, http://libproxy.clemson.edu/login?url=https://www-proquest-com.libproxy.clemson.edu/docview/2443616137?accountid=6167.

Fernandes, Amanda. “Impact of COVID-19: University Students’ Perspective.” International Journal of Nutrition, Pharmacology, Neurological Diseases, vol. 10, no. 3, 2020, pp. 168–169. EBSCOhost, doi:10.4103/ijnpnd.ijnpnd_60_20.

Khan, S., and A. Mian. “Medical Education: COVID‐19 and Surgery.” British Journal of Surgery, vol. 107, no. 8, 2020, pp. 269, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7301046/.

Miller, Craig S., and Charles R. Carlson. “A Blueprint for Recovery for the Postcoronavirus (COVID-19) World.” Oral Diseases, 2020, pp. 1-2, https://doi-org.libproxy.clemson.edu/10.1111/odi.13407.

“Supporting Graduates: The Class of 2020.” Education Journal, no. 418, June 2020, pp. 10–11. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=a9h&AN=146403031.

Images

“200630-N-MC499-0090” by United States Naval Academy Photo Archive is marked with CC PDM 1.0

“Medical students” by Sydney Uni is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

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